About April Rinne

April Rinne

April Rinne was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area and
Colorado, and has been a traveler for as long as she can remember. Most of her early adventures were in national parks and included hiking, camping and orienteering rather than museums or far-flung international locales.

She double majored in International Relations at Emory University and Italian and minored in Art History. She also spent a year as a visiting student at University College in Oxford, England, where she followed self-created courses in garden architecture and European identity.

She returned to Italy on a Fullbright Scholarship and spent a half of each year researching and guiding hiking and biking trips for Butterfield & Robinson and the other half of the year globetrotting. Her work and travels took her throughout Europe, Central and South America, India, Southeast and East Asia and North Africa.

April has traveled to 49 of the 50 United States (missing Hawaii) and 76 foreign countries to-date. This was also the phase when she began to write travelogues - "April's Notes from the Road" - and shared them with friends and family via email, before blogging really took off. She did a joint degree in law and international development finance from Harvard Law School and got an M.A. in International Finance from The Fletcher School.


Latest Posts by April Rinne

What We Can Learn From Microfinance and Why It Matters

December 21, 2012 by  

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Microfinance is the provision of financial products and services to economically active poor people who, for a variety of cultural, social, gender-related, and other reasons, are excluded from the mainstream financial sector, especially in the developing world.

The microfinance sector has grown significantly over the past few decades and, in 2006, Muhammad Yunus, considered by many to be the father of modern microfinance, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in fostering access to finance as a path toward more peaceful relations.

At first glance, it may seem that microfinance and the sharing economy have little in common. Microfinance focuses on poor people in the developing world.

Women represent the vast majority of microfinance clients, and many loans are for working capital assets such as livestock and small shop supplies. Ironically, many microfinance beneficiaries share out of necessity – as they have done for generations – though they wouldn’t necessarily think of building a business around it.

However, this first impression is incomplete. Further investigation reveals a multitude of similarities and – perhaps most importantly – key lessons that the sharing economy and collaborative consumption could learn from microfinance:

· Empowerment: At their core, both microfinance and collaborative consumption enable and promote empowerment of individuals. Responsible access to finance unleashes a positive chain of ripple effects: livelihood, income generation, and a brighter economic future for clients, their families, and communities.

Collaborative consumption achieves similar ends. As Rachel Botsman says, “…my core driver is how empowers people. It empowers people to tap into skills and talent that they have but haven’t found opportunities to make money from before. It empowers people to be in control of their jobs and their lives. It empowers people to make new kinds of connections that are often quite tricky to make.” Technology has democratized, economized, and facilitated the ways in which ever-increasing numbers of people can transact with one another and create new value.

· Trust, Reputation, & Social Collateral: Microfinance and sharing-based businesses depend on these essential characteristics for their very survival, in addition to their popularity. No rational person would make an uncollateralized loan to a poor person she doesn’t trust.

In microfinance, your reputation substitutes for credit history (because the latter doesn’t exist). The group lending model of microfinance, in which each member of a group is responsible for ensuring that all members repay their loans, is premised on social collateral: You’re banking on an individual’s trustworthiness within society, rather than her material assets, as the best indicator of whether she can and will repay a loan. As a result, social standing among peers – especially within tight-knit communities – is built over time and reigns supreme.

Similarly, in the sharing economy this kind of social fabric and “trust barometer” can be created thanks to new technologies. Engaging in collaborative consumption – and getting used to it – lowers the trust barrier over time. Botsman summarizes it well: “The first few interactions people go through typically involve quite a few exchanges. Once they figure out that most people are trustworthy and that the idea works, the amount of trust features they use for future interactions declines.”

· Unpacking Real vs. Perceived Risks: Early in the growth phase of microfinance, potential investors often shied away from transactions due to a variety of perceived risks and unknowns: How can I trust that clients will repay? How do I trust a small financial entity halfway around the world that I may have never even met before? How can I be confident that my investment will lead to poverty alleviation, and funds not misused?

I served as legal counsel for several early microfinance deals in which the risk disclosure language used in offering memoranda and other documents exceeded what was customary in mainstream exchanges on Wall Street. This was because investors were fearful of what they viewed as an untested sector, yet they also understood the power of microfinance as a business proposition, as well as a poverty alleviation tool.

Over time, microfinance institutions (MFIs) grew sustainably, and access to microfinance products and services continued to be in demand by clients. It turns out that economically active poor people are overwhelmingly reliable, smart, committed, and entrepreneurial. The fact that they lack physical assets (or “wealth,” as traditionally defined) is by and large an overstated, perceived risk; microfinance repayment rates often hover around 98 percent – rather remarkable when compared to consumer credit statistics among wealthier people. Gradually, this lack of physical collateral became less important to investors because they started to understand – and, importantly, observe first-hand – that their original assumptions around transactions in which trust and social collateral are not principal driving factors break down in situations where they are. In retrospect, this conclusion seems simple; however, it took repeated experience to get there and did not happen overnight.

Now shift to today’s sharing economy. We see a strikingly similar set of circumstances unfolding, and I believe we can expect to see many more, especially for those companies reaching scale. Many people are skittish of sharing resources with someone they don’t know: What if someone runs off with my shared prized possession, or damages it, or doesn’t return it on time? What if I don’t get the quality of service I expected? In short, how can I trust strangers?

Yet, if we take a step back, we see that unpacking real versus perceived risks is not rocket science. First, a lot of risks are simply perception rather than fact. For example, you trust people whom you don’t know every day without incident – like the bus driver who takes your kids to school or the person who cleans the office. Further, there are plenty of ways to mitigate a variety of risks both formally and informally. At the end of the day, we need to develop robust connective tissue and norms within the sharing economy akin to what microfinance clients rely upon – with considerable success.

· The Importance of an Effective Enabling EnvironmentA phrase like “enabling environment” often makes a person’s eyes glaze over. Yet, in my opinion, perhaps nothing could be more important to the long-term success of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy overall.

Broadly speaking, “enabling environment” refers to the legal and regulatory framework within which a business, sector, or idea is allowed to manifest and operate. It includes laws and policies that permit, encourage, and mainstream the creation of companies and supporting infrastructure, as well as promote good governance and foster a socially responsible community of customers and beneficiaries. Importantly, an effective enabling environment allows both established interests and new and start-up initiatives to thrive alongside one another.

I was fortunate to have a front-row seat for many enabling environment discussions in microfinance. Leaders and policy makers in developing countries wondered and worried: How do we regulate microfinance – a new and promising but largely untested sector – in a way that allows it to grow responsibly, while at the same time ensuring basic protection of poor people, a competitive marketplace, balanced growth of the commercial banking sector, and further financial innovation?

As Yunus said in the early days, “Existing regulations are designed with commercial banking in mind, but microfinance requires a dedicated regulator and a relevant set of rules. Commercial banking is like a super tanker, whereas microfinance is like a dinghy boat with which you can reach small corners. If you design a dinghy boat with the architecture of a supertanker, it is sure to fail.”

Indeed, Yunus is right – and many microfinance practitioners and developing countries have paid attention. It turns out that the best enabling environments result from a blended set of actions including customized laws for microfinance, a variety of exemptions, prudential regulations, and feedback loops that allow for stakeholder input and refinements over time.

Many of the experiences and lessons from microfinance apply remarkably well to the sharing economy. From a legal and regulatory perspective, today’s sharing economy is where microfinance was about 15 years ago. In the coming years, I envision an enabling environment for the sharing economy to evolve that provides a “runway” for new collaborative consumption companies to grow and for incentives for established companies to innovate. A successful enabling environment should include certain exemptions where appropriate (to regulate a spade as a spade), user feedback loops (to ensure the laws and regulations have the intended effects), and deliberate iteration (to facilitate further improvements).

It’s going to be an extremely exciting process to figure out these details – at local, state, national, and even international levels – and I am eager to dive in and do just that!

· Diversity of Models, aka There’s Room for AllMicrofinance comes in many flavors. Some MFIs offer credit (small loans) only, while others offer savings products, insurance, remittance services, and mobile banking. Moreover, some MFIs are for-profit institutions with foreign investors and private equity, while others are non-profit organizations that mobilize primarily local capital, community contributions, and grants. Importantly, this diversity is a strength; each MFI model has its own set of advantages, disadvantages, opportunities, and limitations. It also fundamentally relies on enabling environment conditions.

We see similar trends arising in the sharing economy. One needs to look only as far as Airbnb, Couchsurfing and Freecycle. Airbnb is for-profit and VC-backed; Couchsurfing is a for-benefit corporation (aka B-corp), largely based on reciprocity and with a clear social mission while allowing financial return, as well; and Freecycle is fully not-for-profit and excels at non-monetized exchange.

Which model is ‘better’ depends on who you are and what you want. Airbnb taps into the commercial space, whereas Freecycle nudges barter and gift economies and Couchsurfing occupies a unique place in between. The key is that each model creates value, harnesses underutilized assets to work, fosters local connections, community, and economic activity. All of them represent new ways of transacting, seeing the world, and unlocking opportunity. There is plenty of demand and even more room for complementary growth. This is not the time to worry about crowding out. Rather, we should focus on being inclusive and recognize that – like with microfinance – “the sum is greater than its constituent parts.”

I have spent the better part of the past decade focused on microfinance, typically in combination with some other focus area: serving as legal counsel to investors (from VC and investment banks to philanthropic foundations); teaching policy makers about building enabling environments; and forging partnerships with MFIs to develop financial solutions for water, sanitation, and other essential services. I’ve spent countless hours facilitating cross-sector linkages and tapping into new areas for innovation. It’s been a fascinating and rewarding journey.

As I look at the sharing economy universe today, I have a distinct sense of déjà vu and am incredibly excited about what is ahead. Collaborative consumption stakeholders – whether start-up ventures or established companies, city leaders or national governments, environmentalists or community groups – have much to gain by looking at other successful examples of disruptive innovation. Microfinance is one such example whose lessons are ripe for sharing.

*This post originally appeared in Shareable http:// www.shareable.net/blog/ lessons-from-microfinance-for-the-sharing-economy. Photo credit: fairviewhs.org. 

Hiking in Yosemite Reflections

September 14, 2012 by  

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Hiking in the Yosemite high sierra last month gave pause for thought, along with time to sync with the seasons, swim in waterfalls and watch friends construct simple-yet-incredible balancing rock sculptures.

We started talking about how to spend a summer afternoon in nature.  ”Whittling” was immediately mentioned: whittling time, whittling wood (for a walking stick of course), whittling an idea, or even whittling one’s waistline.

It has a beautiful sound.  And it got me reflecting on favorite verbs — in English only, as a list of melodious Italian or Spanish words would go on forever.

Whittle and weave are two of my favorite, complementary verbs.  According to Merriam-Webster:

  • Whittle means “to cut or shape something by or as if by paring it with a knife; to trim or pare down.”  It also can mean “to wear oneself or another out with fretting.” (I guess I don’t like the latter definition so much.)

I also found a fun saying: He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.

  • Weave means “to interlace especially to form a texture, fabric, or design; to produce by elaborately combining elements; to direct (as in the body) in a winding or zigzag course, especially to avoid obstacles.”

It comes from Latin for web, also related to networks, which makes perfect sense.  One can weave a story, fabric, weave through time, and weave a wonderful life rich with a network of community, experiences and friends.

Whittling is about honing in on what’s essential, meaningful and purposeful.  Weaving is about taking those essential parts and blending them together in a tapestry or mosaic or story or journey, such that the sum — and beauty — of the threads together is greater than their individual parts.

May each of us weave and whittle a better life each day!

Photograph Credit by Jeff Sullivan/Getty Images

Water Paradigms: Out with the Old, In with the New

February 28, 2012 by  

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Recently I received the book Corporate Water Strategies by Will Sarni. (Thanks Will!)

One of the many contributions of the book is a reframing of “old” and “new” paradigms regarding our relationship(s) with water.  If we are to tackle water (and sanitation) challenges successfully in the future, we have to redefine and reassess what sustainable water access, use and management mean.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to add to Will’s paradigm comparisons.  Ultimately I decided that the  basic framework is enough of a great start to stand alone.  Each paradigm shift rings clear today and will do only moreso over time.

Perhaps I will dive deeper into each of the sub-topics below in future posts.  For now though, let’s dive into the basics (as presented in the book):

Old Paradigm New Paradigm
1 Water is a global issue with global solutions All water issues are local, and the watershed is the building block
2 Water is like carbon Water is unique
3 Water is reliable through public infrastructure systems Companies can no longer solely rely on public water sources
4 Water is priced according to value The value of water far exceeds its price
5 Direct water use is the only thing that matters in managing water risk Water use in the value chain is typically much greater than direct water use
6 Water risk can be managed internally Water risk can be managed effectively only with stakeholder input
7 Water scarcity is only about managing risk Water is a significant business opportunity

It’s time to embrace the new: paradigms, ways of thinking, ways of governing the commons, and ways of doing business.  Corporations, this especially means you.  There has never been a greater challenge, nor a more incredible, unprecedented opportunity to effect sustainable change.

What “Ying” and “Yang” Mean For Leadership and Growth

February 15, 2012 by  

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Yin-Yang Leadership & Quality Growth

Borrowing from Asian philosophy, I’d like to apply the principles of yin and yang to questions about “quality growth” and its lessons for leaders in the 21st century.  Historically yang energy has been associated with male, active, targeted and outward energy, while yin is affiliated with feminine, receptive, earth-based and holistic approaches to the world.

For an entity to be whole, it needs to have yin and yang in balance.  An entity can be as small as an individual or as large as the universe, or anything in between:  a company, a family, a nation-state.  When an entity’s yin and yang are harmonized, effective and sustainable solutions can result.

We have been in a yin-yang imbalance for the past several decades, if not centuries.  We have taken a primarily yang approach to growth during this time.  One result of this is that many of our favored measures of so-called success in the modern world – stock valuations, GDP growth, and some very blunt statistics of “progress” – are inconsistent with, and ignore essential characteristics of, today’s reality.  This has led not only to unsustainable practices, but also to futile attempts to control or manage situations that really are emergent:  complex, multi-dimensional, multi-stakeholder, and which do not lend themselves to traditional, hierarchical, command-and-control solutions.

Within this landscape, we are in the early stages of a great rebalancing which reflects a big turn in human history and – if all goes well – bodes well for higher-quality growth prospects.  It began in recent years with terminology like “triple-bottom line” (referring to financial + social + environmental) returns, nascent metrics for “social performance,” and growth of sustainability strategies in both public and private sector discourse.  However, we must go beyond these efforts and focus on the integration of yin and yang leadership styles.  Some of the fundamentally important new forces and values that are showing up as part of this rebalancing – such as joy, fun, love and play – are qualitative, high-quality, and bursting with yin.

The definition of “quality growth” necessarily depends on how one defines not only quality (which I would argue is part of the yin-yang balancing act), but also growth.  Is growth measured by quantitative outputs, qualitative factors, or some combination?  For example, is the production of a certain number of bushels of wheat – a static, external benchmark – or building the capacity of a community to feed itself locally and live more healthfully a better indicator of growth?  It is a combination that is rooted, first and foremost, in local needs and local wisdom.  By focusing on increasing the capacity and skills of people globally to do good things with each other and for their communities – thereby improving their own quality of life according to their own measures of growth – we spur sustainable growth from within which subsequently can serve as a building block for larger ecosystems.

“Quality growth” can manifest itself and should happen in many ways.  We’re talking about an essential shift in how business is done, results are measured and objectives are prioritized – which means changes to business form.

For example, new business models based on sharing (rather than individual purchase requirements) are likely to flourish; these are typically less resource-intensive on a per capita basis and encourage deeper relationship-building among the parties to the shared transaction.  New business entities that permit, account for and encourage qualitative contributions to shareholder value (such as the Flexible Purpose Corporation in California) are also on the rise in many places.  Alongside external mechanisms to facilitate quality growth, companies should proactively pursue internal policies towards these ends, such as focusing on longer-term sustainability goals rather than short-term financial returns.  I look forward to the day when ten-year forecasts and results are given greater weight than quarterly earnings in the global marketplace.

In the long run, the most successful entities will reflect integrated yin and yang leadership styles.  This means integration of great analytics and logical rigor (yang) with perceptive intuition, compassion, mindfulness of relationships, and an emphasis on happiness and subjective well-being (yin).  One or the other is not enough; both are required for true quality growth.

India Redux: World Water Day, WaterCredit Forum, Bombay Belly & Kindness of Colleagues

March 31, 2010 by  

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It’s hard to believe my time in India has already come and gone.  It was a good trip, as always – full of hectic meetings + early morning flights + learning + sensory overload + wonderful people – but far from my best.  Though I was there 2 weeks, it felt more like one since the other was a blur spent in bed and doctor’s offices.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The key highlights of this trip were definitely World Water Day (March 22) and our inaugural WaterCredit Forum (March 26).  Each year one of Water.org’s partners, Gramalaya, organizes what we believe is the largest World Water Day gathering in the world.  More than 21,000 people – probably 99% of whom are women – come from over 400 villages throughout Tamil Nadu to celebrate their access to clean water and safe sanitation, and to advocate on behalf of those who don’t.

A sea of bright saris flooded my eyes, all sitting underneath a giant bamboo-lattice roof to protect from the searing heat.  WaterCredit loan group members had matching saris; that was a totally unexpected, absolutely thrilling sight to behold.  There were dances.  Children dressed up as animals and did pantomimes about good hygiene (“I’m a bunny. I like to play in the dirt. When I’m done playing, I must wash my hands before eating my carrots.”) and water quality (“I’m a tiger.  I roam around all day, looking for something to eat.  This makes me thirsty.  Sometimes I find water in a pond.  But I shouldn’t drink it if it’s dirty, because it will make me sick.”).

I sat on the dais as a guest of honor, a garland of freesia around me, and was overwhelmed by joy and pride.  Unfortunately I was too wobbly to do much more than smile (keep reading), but hopefully that was enough for my first time.  I plan to celebrate many more World Water Days in a similar setting.  It was incredible.  A few pictures here, and a fabulous Water.org video clip here.

The WaterCredit Forum was more staid in comparison, but still served its purpose and was a big success (if I may say so myself!).  We attracted a great range of microfinance, water/sanitation, banking, venture capital and development organizations.  Most participants came from India, though Africa, North America and Europe were represented.  The morning saw plenary sessions and excellent presentations by our MFI partners BASIX and Guardian.  In the afternoon, we split into groups for interactive discussions about opportunities, challenges and other innovations for WaterCredit moving forward.  The entire day felt like one big highlight.  Microfinance Insights has written an article about the Forum already; Microfinance Focus will publish a full report next month.

The one — but big — downer of the trip was a bad case of Bombay belly I got, which was double-whammied with a virus that left me woozy,  in pain, with a 104F fever and wishing I were not on the road.  Poor timing and then some.  Even so, it was an opportunity to learn about the kindness of strangers (and colleagues!) and gave some insights into Indian medical care.

The day after I started feeling nauseous and lost my appetite, I woke up barely able to move.  Nearly in tears, I wobbled downstairs to the hotel lobby, where my colleagues were preparing to go on a site visit.  They took one look at me and said, “to the doctor you must go – now!”

Next thing I knew, I was whisked away to a tiny, bird-chirpy corner of a residential neighborhood and plopped into a chair at the home of some Dr. G. Ganapathy.  I was told he was “one of the top physicians in all Trichy – studied in the US, very famous man.”  Sounded good to me.

Five minutes later, in walks a delightful elderly man – who we’ve clearly woken up early – with a gentle step and sparkle in his eye.  He asks me where I’m from; it turns out he spent 2 years in Sacramento, which in Tamil Nadu was as close as next door.  (Later, having recovered, I would accompany him to his home so he could proudly show me photos of him, his wife and Alcatraz.)

For the next two hours, I was poked and prodded, slept on his home-office-bench, got 2 injections, was force-fed honey with fresh sweet lime juice, and continued to feel awful.  Not to worry, said Dr. Ganapathy, I was going to get better.  I wasn’t sure I believed him – but the one thing that definitely did make me feel better was realizing that we’d made an appointment at a moment’s notice, had never once been asked for insurance cards, and I was being treated almost as if I were family.  It was comforting beyond words.  (Why can’t a “developed” country like the US understand this?!?)

For the next several hours, my colleagues Nayakam, Aananth, Damodaran and Jose kept close watch over me.  We ventured out once, for a couple of hours to see some Water.org work.  I got sick again, nearly fainted, and decided not to do that again.  Bed was the best option of all – I slept 17 hours in one day.

That evening we returned to the doctor, keeping him up both early and late.  Once again he welcomed us with open arms.  My fever had risen, so he kindly spent another 2 hours poking and prodding, and asked if I wanted to go to hospital.  My colleagues flatly refused and insisted on taking me to their home instead.  I will forever be grateful to Damu’s wife Viji and daughters Priya and Preethi for welcoming me with open arms, feeding me sugar-salt solution and (delicious!) rice porridge, and nursing me back to a semi-normal state.  The following morning, after some tender coconut – the local palliative of choice – I was allowed back to the hotel and we moved on to Chennai.  It would still be several days until I was back to normal (to be honest, I’m still not there yet) but the worst was over – and I’d had lessons in the kindness of colleagues, humanity of the medical profession (especially when not constrained by worries like malpractice) and a stern reminder to be kind to my palate in India!

Decade Underway in Splashing Style (Gulp!)

March 12, 2010 by  

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I’m wondering where the past 4 months (since my last post) have gone.  Tweeting is so easy in comparison to blogging. Alas.

Since Italy in November, I’ve been to Germany (Berlin), Canada, and taken 6 other domestic trips (mostly east coast – met Natalie Portman at the gym in Soho!).  So, it’s safe to conclude that a lot of the past 4 months have been spent on planes, in meetings and exploring other cities.

I leave for India in less than 2 days. This will be my fourth time there in less than 2 years. I am really excited, as I always am to return there. It’s a combination anticipating the sensory overload that awaits + exhilaration about new discoveries and places + a good dose of anxiety about all I/we have to accomplish while there.

The main reason for this trip is the inaugural WaterCredit Forum.  We’re bringing together — for the first time in the world, in such a setting, as far as we know — a crowd of peers from the microfinance, water/sanitation (WSH), and banking sectors to learn and discuss opportunities for innovation.  There will be MFI CEOs, WSH organizations and experts, catalytic philanthropists, commercial bankers, public WSH authorities, microfinance consultancies, and several current WaterCredit partners on hand.  The interest in attending has been outstanding; makes me both very happy, and a little nervous.

The WaterCredit Forum also coincides with World Water Day on March 22.  I’ve heard incredible stories about how moving and memorable the day is in places where water is a scarce, precious resource.  I’m going to be in Tamil Nadu then, in a water-scarce area, attending celebrations for how water has been brought to many communities — yes, proudly thanks to Water.org and WaterCredit.

Before all that happens though, a flurry of meetings in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and beyond.  I won’t even have an option to get jetlag, with our first appointment only hours after arrival.

And at the end, I swing through Cambridge (Massachusetts, not England) for presentations at Harvard.  Should be great fun to take a trip down memory lane and share what I’m doing now with others, that grew directly out of what I studied there.  I’m especially keen to catch up with professors who trivialized topics like microfinance, deeming it somehow inferior to “real” finance.

My tastebuds are gearing up for chai. My balmy-hot weather clothes are packed (there goes winter this year — by the time I return, it’ll be full spring).  I can’t wait to see my in-country colleagues again and meet many new interesting, inspiring people too.

Time for pre-dawn Kingfisher flights, Ambassador cabs, brightly flowing saris, and beautiful smiling faces like nowhere else in the world!

What A (Terrific, Exhausting) Travel Season

November 11, 2009 by  

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The two months since my last post — and really, the past four months — have been intense, rewarding and at times I’d even have to say extraordinary.  Four continents, 12 countries (8 for work + 4 for layovers), 40+ flights (no comment on carbon footprints please — I’m trying to help the 2.6 billion people without water and sanitation) and more meetings with MFIs and watsan organizations than I can count.  Whew!

Here’s the big-picture overview — think maps, pins and where-in-the-world:

  • Trip 1 (July – August): Kenya – Uganda – Ethiopia – Sweden – Netherlands
  • Trip 2 (September): Singapore – Hong Kong – India (8 cities, north to south and east to west) – South Korea
  • Trip 3 (October): London, England – Frankfurt, Germany
  • Bonus Trips: Kansas City, Los Angeles and Washington DC
  • Trip 4 (now):  Italy (Rome, Bergamo, Cinque Terre)
  • Trip 5 (forthcoming at end November): Berlin, Germany

There are too many highlights to note here; hopefully my Twitterstream has done some justice to these over time.  In addition to my personal observations, I have a WaterCredit Twitterstream that’s focused specifically on water, sanitation and microfinance.  I talk a lot about toilets, poo and municipal water authorities these days… hmmm.  Well, given that we’ve got 2.6 billion people without appropriate WSH (that means Water, Sanitiation & Hygiene) today and — despite significant resources, time, money and efforts being expended globally — we’ll have 4 billion people like this by 2025, I’d say more people need to join these conversations.

But back to the travel theme…

Such awesome trips, all of them.  Professionally, MFI interest in WaterCredit is broad and sincere; I couldn’t be more pleased with how outreach meetings went.  The Water.org/WaterCredit team has a lot of follow-up work to do — hurray!

It was interesting and great fun to return to several places I’d visited in the past, but this time with additional work responsibilities and insights about “doing business” there.  My in-country Water.org colleagues were amazing hosts and enabled us to do, learn and experience things that I never could have done solo.  For example I will never forget the 11-course meal (including 4 rice dishes alone — with everything from coconut to cracked pepper, pomegranates and cardamom) warmly prepared by the Water.org India country director’s wife at their home in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, and then playing shuttlecock (aka badminton) with his daughters afterwards.  And not least, the tumble I took in the street trying to return a volley.

Alongside familiar places were several new ones too.  Among them:  Uganda; Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia; and Frankfurt, Germany.  Uganda was a trip — navigating through slums to MFI headquarters, roaming Kampala‘s first 24-hour Nakumatt superstore, and eating my first matoke (yes, it tastes like wet socks).  Visiting Bahir Dar was like a step back in time, to a bucolic verdant community removed from the frenzy of Addis.  I did have to remind myself however that we were there during the short wet season, when the land is eye-poppingly green; for most of the year it suffers from drought (hence Water.org’s program there).  By the way, if you’re curious about the kinds of water-works Water.org does in Ethiopia, here‘s one example.  And Frankfurt = what an unexpected treat!  I’d only been there in transit before; this time I attended a “Financing Sanitation” conference hosted by KfW.  Alongside that, we had opportunities to explore the delightful city center and ride in a bona fide Paternoster elevator.

Now checking in from Rome, it’s as lovely as ever — especially with the crisp autumn air and thinner tourist crowds — though also surprisingly expensive.  (Notwithstanding the awful $:euro rate, what’s happened to the local economy in the past 3 years?!?)  I made the delicious mistake of ordering gnocchi al tartufo bianco at a local trattoria (simple family-run locale) and got nailed $40. The cafe’ next to my hotel charges 9 euro ($13.50) for a double espresso (“only” 5 euro ($7.50) for a single). The metro is still a steal at 1 euro ($1.50) per ride, but trains are dear (80 euro ($120) for a 3-hour journey up north) and it’s better to walk around town and enjoy the sights anyway…

Which I’ve been doing whenever possible.  Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Forum, St. Peter’s, Campo dei Fiori, all my favorite places already ticked off.  Especially enjoyed wandering the backstreets of Trastevere (stumbling upon a hole-in-the-wall forno with steaming-hot fresh bread, gawking once more at the stunning mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere), quaffing my first in-country cappuccino at Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio, and doing a handstand in front of the Colosseum.  That makes handstands at 6 of the 8 Modern Wonders of the World (Great Wall of China, Pyramids of Giza, Petra, Macchu Picchu, Taj Mahal and Colosseum) — Chichen Itza and the Giant Jesus in Rio, here I come!  Flickr photos up shortly.

Of course the most important reason I’m here is the IDLO law-and-microfinance “grand finale” gathering.  It’s like a family reunion with participants from 30+ developing courses whom I’ve been fortunate to meet and teach over the past 3 years.  We’ve come together to discuss lessons learned and the way forward; it’s truly a humbling experience, and as usual (it feels like) I’m learning far more than contributing.  Simultaneous tracks in English, Spanish and French covering topics ranging from regulatory structures to consumer protection and branchless banking.  Wow… and makes me very excited for what could be next up for IDLO’s microfinance team.

On that note, back to microfinance credit ratings and (shortly) another espresso… Ciao for now, a presto!

WaterCredit Travels: And Now to India…

September 8, 2009 by  

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Namaste!  Hard to believe that since my last post, exactly one month ago, I’ve taken some 17 flights and been to 7 countries.  Quite the globetrotting, but not exactly sustainable travel statistics — at least not long-term if I value watering and tending to local roots too!

You can find photos from my time in east Africa here, and Stockholm World Water Week here.  The Swedes have such a good thing going in summertime…

Today I embark on the next phase of WaterCredit travels: India.  Over the next 2+ weeks I will be in Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Tiruchirapalli.  Hoping (and fingers crossed expecting) to find MFI feedback and interest in WaterCredit equally if not more encouraging than was the case in Africa, and very excited to see what may result.  As always you can find out more about what I’m up to on a daily basis — travel notes from the road, adventures and random observations — on Twitter.  Until the next post, off to experience life and the world to their fullest!

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